For many adults, their happiest childhood memories revolve around outdoor play, spending time in their own back yards or at a neighborhood park. And, of course, recess was an outside activity as long as the weather was cooperative. Today, although there may be some extenuating circumstances attached to outdoor play, there are still plenty of benefits for kids of all ages.
While children are enjoying outdoor play, most of them don’t realize they are getting a chance to let out frustrations by running, to exercise their large muscles, to build social skills and to learn about nature. All of these benefits can come from just a short amount of time outside every day. Whether playing organized games or just walking through a vacant lot or field, children can learn a great deal about the world in by stepping into an outside environment with an enthusiastic adult.
For many kids the fun of playing outdoors is simply running around, exploring and using their imaginations to do whatever occurs to them. Children need this kind of minimal-supervision outdoor time. It’s also worthwhile, however, to direct children’s observations about the weather and other environmental factors, asking questions and generating curiosity. Kids also can enjoy outdoor games that take a lot more space than a classroom or even a gymnasium can offer.
Parents and teachers may think the weather prohibits outdoor time for kids when, actually, except for extreme heat or cold, most kids can actually spend a little time outdoors nearly every day. In winter, kids need layered clothing, gloves and hats that cover their ears. In summer, long-sleeved, thin cotton shirts and sun hats are vital, as is sunscreen, both in summer and winter.
For some children, opportunities for outside activity are part of every school day. In addition to recess, some physical education classes take place outdoors and some schools have environmental science labs that take kids into the outdoors. Parents who are concerned that their children get little or no time outdoors should approach school administrators to find out what they can do to change the situation. Kids who are in school all day need the chance to run around outside after school. Signing children up for softball or soccer leagues increases their outside time.
All children younger than middle-school age need supervision when they play outdoors, even if it is just one adult who is keeping an eye out on neighborhood play. At school, an adequate number of teachers should monitor playground activity. Even with supervision, kids should play only in areas that are protected from traffic-filled streets and free from hazards that could cause injury.